Wind energy was first used by humans to power boats for transport over 5000 years ago. It was adapted into windmills to process grain, pump water for grazing herds of cattle and sheep and to drain swamps.
Further refinements in technology allowed the first application of wind energy in the production of electricity in 1890. Subsequently, due to environmental damage caused by using non-renewable energy like fossil fuels, green energy sources like the wind and sun are now developed as alternative sources of energy.
I have summarised some facts, and the advantages, which can be harnessed, as a result of using wind power.
Why Wind Energy? What are the Advantages?
Renewable Energy Source
Wind energy is obtained from wind currents that are formed constantly due to pressure differences as a result of different rates which the Sun heats our world.
One of the advantages of wind energy is that it can be found readily around the world due to its being a natural phenomenon. To date, Europe is the current leading producer of wind energy due to consistent sources of strong winds available and an appreciative population.
Wind Energy is Free
Like solar energy, you do not have to pay for using wind.
Generates Zero Pollutants
No burning and so no emission of harmful fumes take place when wind energy is being utilised to generate electricity.
Plethora of Usages for Wind Energy
Wind energy can be used in both offshore and onshore locations in farms to generate electricity to power homes and also to generate income. It can also be used to pump water for land drainage or extraction of groundwater.
Wind energy industry also generates jobs especially in developing countries like India. Production of wind energy related parts like wind turbines is also an important industry with China currently leading the way with three firms; Sinovel, Goldwind and Dong Fang ranked in the top 10 manufacturers in 2009.
Another country that have found success in generating and utilising wind energy will be the United States, particularly the state of Iowa1. It is a leading US state in terms of wind power generation and electricity due to its favorable location, with up to 27.4% of all the electricity generated in the state from wind turbines, ranking it first in the nation.
As a result, fourteen companies involved in the wind energy industry based their offices or manufacturing facilities in Iowa. Wind turbine blade manufacturing facilities by TPI Composites is located in Newton, while Siemens based theirs in Fort Madison. Other parts like turbines are manufactured in Cedar Rapids by Clipper Windpower and towers manufactured in Newton by Trinity Structural Towers.
Some of these companies also support the development of wind power projects which generates up to almost 4,000 of both wind-related and indirect jobs in Iowa alone. This ranks it second in US in terms of employment related to the wind energy industry. Iowa landowners with wind turbines on their land also receive an estimated $16 million USD annually worth of lease payments.
Government incentives like tax reduction and rebates are available for people who have wind-energy systems. The home owner can also sell back excess power generated by his system to utility companies through the power grid. Therefore in view of these advantages, wind energy has the ability to replace conventional power plants that utilise fossil fuels. This will reduce the threat of global warming thus it is a major benefit to the environment.
Readily Available Wind Energy Kits
Projects to generate wind power are also available in the form of DIY projects like small-scale wind turbine projects that can generate up to 20 kilowatts of electricity. Due to its tough and lightweight material, it can also be mounted on roofs of houses or flats.
Advances in technology have also reduced the noise and vibration of the blades, and efficient gearing has increased the power capacity of smaller systems. These small-scale wind projects are good ways to save on utility bills and also as a source of income when you sell the excess power generated back to the utility company.
Moreover these projects will only require basic DIY skills for construction with no need of outside professional help. They are also great projects to promote family bonding at the same time.
Like solar panels are to solar energy, a wind turbine is the device which will convert wind energy to electricity. There are several applications to how wind energy is generated by using these wind turbines.
Uses of Wind Energy
Onshore wind farms
This includes the usage of place like ridges and hills where there is plenty of wind. The energy of the wind will also be higher as air will pick up speed is they are forced over a ridge or hill. Other good places for wind farms include seashores.
Offshore wind farms
These farms are more difficult to build and maintain so they are more expensive. Such farms can be found commonly in Europe like Skegness in the United Kingdom.
In fact the London Array, which is the world’s largest offshore wind farm, was recently officially opened by British Prime Minister David Cameron. This 175 turbine located in the Thames Estuary boasts 630MW of capacity.
Small-scale wind farms
This involves the usage of small wind turbines, which are lightweight and compact, to generate wind power. These wind turbines are good sources of electricity for remote areas. Such small wind turbines can be easily mounted on rooftops or free-standing on the backyards. Coupled with generators and solar panels, these wind turbines can supply electricity to the household.
Disadvantages of Wind Energy.. Some Facts
Wind towers can be an eyesore
Wind power also has its own sets of problems. One problem will be the appearance and location of the towers. These wind towers are huge and usually located on hill tops. The presence of these towers can be an eyesore for some people giving rise to the “NIMBY” syndrome.
One related problem is “shadow flicker3” which is the casting of constantly moving shadows across the land. This phenomenon has been also implicated in being harmful to epileptic patients. However the problem of shadow flicker can be mitigated by first using computer software to calculate the times and days of the year when it is most obvious and then via vegetative buffers or setbacks. The harmful effects of shadow flicker to epileptic patients were proved to unfounded.
Death Trap for Animals
These spinning blades of the turbines can be a death trap for birds when they fly into them. This has been observed in California4 where wind turbines had been implicated in causing the deaths of migratory raptors. However this can be reduced by improvements in the design of the wind turbines and relocating of the wind turbines from the migratory routes of the birds.
Finally like solar energy, wind energy can be unreliable and therefore is not a complete solution to solving the energy problem. Instead wind energy, together with solar energy, is one of the potential sources of energy that can be used in a combination setup in replacing fossil fuels.
Some Recent Advances in Wind Energy
Researchers Make Advances In Wind Energy Generation
Engineers at the University of Alberta have created a cheaper and more efficient wind energy generator that can help people generate electricity even in the presence of light winds ScienceDaily (July 19, 2005).
Smart Wind Turbines Can Predict the Wind
The Danish university Risø DTU has recently completed the world’s first successful test on a wind turbine that incorporates a laser-based anemometer built into the spinner. This allow the prediction of wind direction, wind gusts and turbulence for the wind turbine to optimise its position and blade adjustment to allow a more efficient usage of wind ScienceDaily (Jan. 5, 2010).
Longer and stronger blades
Longer and stronger blades for usage in wind farms like the B75 rotor blades developed by Siemens have increased the efficiency of electricity generation by wind turbines2. The specially designed blades do not have seams or bonded joints, weigh 20% lesser than conventionally produced of such length and size and have a profile that delivers maximum rotor performance even under a range of different wind speeds.
1) http://www.windenergyfoundation.org/wind-at-work/case-studies/iowa (accessed 14/04/2015)
2) http://www.siemens.com/innovation/en/news/2012/e_inno_1223_2.htm (accessed 14/04/2015)
3) http://windenergyfoundation.org/wind-at-work/public-health-safety/public-health/shadow-flicker (accessed 14/04/2015)
4) http://www.livescience.com/31995-how-do-wind-turbines-kill-birds.html (accessed 14/04/2015)
(Published 17th October 2010)
(Last Updated 14th April 2015)